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Seminar Report on Initiative for State-building and constitution making process

Nawalparasi (12-13 Sep 2008) and Bhairhawa (13-14 Sep 2008)

By Chandra D Bhatta
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com


Introducing the Programme

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation has organised training-programme on 'Modern State-building and Constitution-making Process' in Nawalparasi and Bhairhawa. The programme was attended, among others, by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, members of civil society, students, government officials, youths, and representatives of trade unions and other stakeholders of society. There were 150 participants in Nawalparasi and 120 plus in Bhairhawa. A good number of women participated in both places. The programme was chaired by respective judges of the district court (Mr Kashinath Pokharel in Nawalparasi and Narayan Prasad Dhital in Bhairahawa). High ranking government officials present in the district took part in both places. Likewise, head of the District Police Office and personnel from Nepal Army also attended the programme in both the places.

The main objective of the programme was to educate people at the peripheral level on state-building and issues underpinning constitution-making process in order to enable them to participate in the political process meaningfully. Moreover, one of the main thrust of this programme, among others, is to bridge the societal gap between different societal groups, regions and bring them into the common platform so that problems of all societal groups, regions could be identified and brought into the forefront for their inclusion into the polity in order to address them in a peaceful way.

Proceedings

Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal presented a paper on State and shed light on the basic tenets of state-building. Mr Dahal touched upon different facets such as political, cultural, religious, economic, foreign policy, electoral and many other issues that impinge state-building process in Nepal. Mr Dahal set the scene for the two days seminar and also discussed about current state of political affairs in the country. Similarly Mr Kashi Raj Dahal presented his paper on federalism and constitution-making process in the country. Mr Dahal stressed that political leaders and law of the land should protect interest of citizens. Another presenter Chandra D. Bhatta introduced hands-out on democracy. The central theme of hands-out on democracy was to consolidate rule of law and introduce civic education at different layers of society. This will help to construct civic citizenship and prelude the culture of peace and reconciliation. Mr Bhatta also talked about the role of civil society in post-conflict societies. He said that civil society could play a crucial role both in writing a democratic constitution and guiding peace-process to the logical end.

Floor Discussion

All three presentations on state, constitution and civil society did spark very crucial questions. What has been experienced in Nawalparasi and Bhairhawa is that a great deal of emphasis was laid on Education Policy, Land Reform, Secularism and Federalism. Almost all the participants in Nawalparasi were against dual education policy (private versus public) of the state and wanted to get rid of this.

On Education - Majority of the participants wanted to know the ways to get rid of private education system in the country which they feel is not serving the interest of the state and citizen. Similarly one Mr Rajeshwor Pathak from Nepali Congress in Nawalparasi district has suggested that primary education (from class 1 to class 3) should be provided in local language, secondary education (from class 4 to 7) should be provided in national language, secondary level education (from class 8 to 10) should be provided both in national and English language and higher education (from class 11 and beyond) should be provided English language. By and large, many participates were of the view that primary education should be provided in local language as it will help to protect local languages and cultural values. Participants were also expressed their views on the necessity of scientific practical (vocational) education in the country so that students get some sort of self-sufficiency once they graduate.

On Land Reform - majority of the participants argued that there has to be provision to impose property tax (that is more property more tax) on buildings of Kathmandu and Pokhara as owners of these palatial buildings are earning hefty amount in the form of rent but paying a meager amount of tax to the government. They argued that how long government will keep on 'distributing our land' so we need to have some sort of scientific mechanism on land reform. One Mr Anil Kumar from Madeshi Janaadhikar Form (Nawalparasi) has said that some people own more than fifty buses but don't pay tax; many people have money in the foreign banks but no tax. Hence, he argued that, property valuation is must rather than eying on our land.

On Secularism - many people expressed their resentment on Nepal declaring a secular state without understanding people's sentiment. One Dr. Dhakal in Bhirahawa have deep reservations on this. He said that why Nepal has been declared secular state despite majority of Nepali being Hindus. If we are to adopt majority principle, we probably should hold referendum on this issue. Nepali state has failed to protect its culture and religion which is also the major objective of the state. Hindu religion has played a crucial role in terms of national integration (bridge between hill and terai). Rather than declaring Nepal a secular state, the constitution should have remained silent on this issue as there is no need to have any particular religion of the state said one participant in Bhairahawa.

On Federalism - Majority participants from the Teraian party have said that federalism is must, Madesh belongs to Madeshi and Madheshis sentiments/feelings should be respected by the state. State should provide education, health, housing etc free of cost. Majority of the participants have said that Nepal's federalism should be able to protect our religion, culture, and identity. Many participants in Bhairahawa wanted to know about the basis of federalism (what type of semi, cooperative or any other model of governance) and merits and demerits.

Moreover, many issues such as language, health, employment, youths, rights of women and dalits, rule of law, democratization of political parties, non-state actors and issues related to agriculture and challenges they are posing to the state were raised in the seminar.

Conclusion

What can be drawn from these two seminars is that people are more concerned about policy related issues such as education, land reform, secularism, federalism and others. They wanted political leaders to change their behaviour in order to resolve problems scientifically rather than in a hotchpotch manner. The worry expressed at the rural areas on national issues and their faith on democracy, nationalism is noteworthy. We can conclude that the political consciousness is very high in each and every layer of society but political responsibility is missing.

 
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